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President Uhuru: We cannot let our heritage die

By Daniel Wesangula | April 30th 2016
Presidents Ali Bongo of (Gabon) Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya) and Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) emerge from the opening session of the Giants Global Summit at the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, April 29, 2016, the three leader resolved to push for a total ban on Ivory trade across the world later this year at the Cites convention in Johannesburg, South Africa. [PHOTO: MOSE SAMMY/STANDARD]

Kenya will not soften its stand on a total ban in trade of ivory and ivory products.

President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday said ivory and rhino horn products should be put "beyond any economic use" and declared that the country will uphold its ban on ivory during the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species conference in South Africa.

"We will not be the Africans who stood by as we lost our elephant populations. We will not abandon our legacy to the whims of the market. Today, we begin to take giants steps which will merit the praise of our ancestors and inspire our youth. To lose our elephants will be to lose a heritage," Uhuru said.

He was speaking at the official opening of the Giants Summit amid passionate pleas from conservationists that he helps end global ivory trade and consequently save a shrinking elephant population.

Leading conservationists, including Dr Richard Leakey, appealed to presidents Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon to stand up and be counted in the war to save a species under continued threat.

"I urge all our leaders to get behind an effort to make sure there is a unanimous declaration that ivory will not be traded by anybody across international frontiers. If we do that we can save the elephant. As long as there is a vibrant market, with the corruption within our countries and our porous borders, we will lose," Dr Leaky said.

"We need your help now more than ever before."

The conservationist, and many of his peers believe the only way to save the African elephant is by killing the market for ivory largely found in China and the Far East.

"If our attempts to lower the demand fail and poachers are driven to what they believe is a profitable enterprise, and high level corruption undermines law enforcement, this will forever remain a potential disaster. We could see the extinction of our elephants," Ian Douglas-Hamilton, founder of elephant NGO Save The Elephants said.

The stance by South African states on supporting restricted ivory sales was also put on the spot.

"I would appeal to the Southern African states to consider the implication of holding on to the stockpiles. As long as you hold on to them, we are creating some hope that there will be a market in the future," Dr Leakey said.

Even as the participants in the inaugural summit sought solutions, they agreed that the task ahead is arduous.

"We have lost as many as 70 per cent of all elephants in Central Africa. Bringing back these numbers will not be an easy task," President Ombimba said. "We have a moral duty to protect these species."

Ombimba said poaching in Gabon has turned elephants into refugees, forcing them out of their natural habitat of the rain forests into villages.

But as the heads of state gave their assurances that their governments would do everything to protect their animals, the underlying issues in their individual countries continue to persist.

Unemployment and the rise of criminal gangs pose another threat.

"There is a growing pan African threat of insecurity fueled by illegal gangs financed by illegal wildlife trade," Ombimba said.

His Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni believes part of the solution lies in provision of jobs for an increasing population.

"We need to encourage investment and put up industries and give our people an alternative to encroaching into conservancies in the name of farming," Museveni said.

The killing of elephants to feed the illegal trade in their ivory is out of control across Africa, with an estimated 30,000 elephants being poached annually from a continental population of as few as 400,000 remaining individuals.

Experts say poaching undermines ecosystems, stunts economic development, and disrupts the rule of law. For nations bordering unstable states, the disruption in the rule of law is felt more because the proceeds from this poaching fund extremists groups across the continent.

In 2013, an 18-month investigation by South African environmental groups Maisha Consulting and Elephant Action League linked Al Shabaab to the trafficking ivory through Kenya and established that this trade could be supplying up to 40 per cent of the funds needed to keep the terror group in business.

Despite the dark cloud hanging over the future of the elephant and rhino population, conservationists believe there is hope and that this is a war that humanity can win.

"All we need is the political will. We need to have the will to fight for the species. We can have as many anti-poaching initiatives as possible, but if we do not, the will to fight the menace and punish those in the wrong then we will not have much success," Max Graham, founder and CEO of Space for Giants said.

For others, it is the little things that will make a difference in this fight.

"Things as minute as getting the cooperation of communities living with the wildlife will take us a long way. Without them, the war will be lost," Ian Craig, of Lewa Conservancy said.

For considerable change though, the demand should be dealt with. China, statistics show, is the largest market for ivory and ivory products.

Beijing, however, says it is working on a solution to end the insatiable appetite of ivory. On January 6, 2014, China destroyed a pile of ivory weighing over six tones in a landmark event aimed at sending a message to those engaged in illegal trade in ivory that the government will not condone poaching.

In February 2015, the Chinese government imposed a one-year ban on ivory carving imports. Officials said the ban is a concrete step meant to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products. These efforts have been complimented by stepping up prosecutions of smugglers and seizures of wildlife products at border posts.

This might not be enough but, some say it is a step in the right direction.

In 2014, Chinese premier Li Keqiang visited Kenya and pledged Sh1billion to support African wildlife protection.

There is a silver lining though.

"My hopes are stronger than my fears. This meeting represents a chance. A chance that humanity can triumph and save an entire species," Douglas- Hamilton said.

Later today, President Kenyatta will preside over the burning of 106 tonnes of ivory and rhino horn stockpiles in Nairobi. This, some say, might not be the ultimate saviour of a population, but a loud and clear message on intent.

"The ivory burn of 1989 destroyed the market for ivory, plunging the market price from Sh30,000 per kilo to Sh500 in a week. We did that by embarrassing the people who were wearing ivory. That is what we want to do," Dr Leakey said.

Kenya, Uganda and Gabon hold more than half of the continents elephants.

"The magnitude of this threat is such that many predict the populations may be lost entirely. But if we act we can ensure that they are not lost," President Kenyatta said.

The Giants Club was founded by President Kenyatta with the presidents of Botswana, Gabon, Kenya and Uganda, with support from Space for Giants and its patron Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of The Independent and London Evening Standard newspapers.

The body was formed to combat the poaching crisis by bringing together visionary leaders who can work together to provide the political will, financial resources and technical capacity required to protect Africa's remaining elephant populations.

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